Like a lot of people, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I left school . . . except that I knew I wanted to help people . . . make a difference. I’d looked at teaching, social work, nursing . . . but I just couldn’t make up my mind.
As it turned out, I left home around about the same time I left school anyway, so I needed to work to support myself alongside my studies. I had a job in a nursery working with children Monday to Friday, but I was looking for some weekend work also to boost my income.
I happened to mention to my friend that I was looking for weekend work and she’d recently starting working for a chain of care homes in Lincolnshire. She said they were always looking for staff and that I should go down and see her manager.
Caring for older people was something I’d never considered and at the time I never considered it a vocation. When I phoned the manager to inquire about an interview, it was just a job I was applying for, some extra income, nothing more.
So I think it would be fair to say that caring was something I ‘fell into’. But by the end of my first day . . . I was hooked. I absolutely loved my job. It sounds crazy, but I really felt like I was where I was destined to be there. Older people are amazing, I love listening to their stories. They’re full of so much life experience, whatever you think you know . . . they know better! A typical day working as a care assistant is packed full of so many meaningful moments, I don’t think there’s another job in the world where you get that. I’ll never find the words to express just how rewarding it is.
The job is a lot of fun too. If you work in a good care home, they’ll be loads of activities and events to enjoy . . . trips out to the seaside or to see a show, cheese and wine parties, bingo, knitting, craft fayres, charity days . . . the list goes on. And what’s really special about these days is watching the people that you’ve come to genuinely care about smiling, laughing and really enjoying what could otherwise be one of the darker times in their life. Knowing that you had just a small hand in that is a feeling that can’t be measured.
And in terms of your own work/life balance, being a care assistant usually works really well. Most care facilities work around the clock, 7 days a week, so there’s a certain amount of flexibility that can be offered. For example, when I started at my first home I only worked weekends, because I had another job during the week. However, I soon loved caring so much that I gave the other job up and started working full time in the care home, which I was also able to do without any fuss . . . in fact they were glad to have me there more often! At that time, I was young, free and single so I was able to work whenever and however the home required me too. I was also able to pick up extra shifts where they were short, which was mutually beneficial, because it was extra income for me too. Later in life, when I had my children I was able to move into working night shifts so that I could still be a full time mum during the day . . . . So whatever situation I’ve been in with my personal life, caring has fitted in really well around it.
And perhaps that’s one of the reasons that 15 years later, I’m still working in health care. Another reason is that as a care assistant, you will never be bored. Firstly, every day is different. But secondly, there are a number of very different types of setting you can work in, with a number of different types of people. When I left the care home as a youngster I went to do my nurses training and started working in hospitals as an auxiliary. After that I worked with mental health patients in a private home. I’ve also worked with people with acquired brain injuries and with people with learning disabilities. I’ve worked both in homes and within the community. There are so many different avenues you can take.
There’s also a lot to learn. Every time you think you know it all. You really don’t. Because every single person that you care for is an individual and to provide them with the outstanding care they deserve you have to get to know what they like, what they don’t, what their routines are, how they like things to be done, what they can do for themselves, what their personality is like . . . I could go on! I suppose the only thing I struggle with is what’s called ‘professional boundaries’. A lot of care employer’s will tell you that you are not supposed to get attached to the people you are caring for. Well, I ask you . . . how is that possible? People are people at the end of the day, some you like, some you don’t, some you really click with . . . and some . . . you love. That can’t be helped. We are all human. For me, professional boundaries mean that I still offer the same level of care to the people that I don’t like. I still smile, I’m still friendly, I still treat them with respect and dignity . . . and I use my practical skills in the exact same way I would with anybody else . . . I just perhaps don’t feel it in my heart the way I might with some others.
I’ve had the privilege of caring for many truly amazing people over the course of my career, people that I still think of with fondness to this day, people that have taught me things that I carry with me. We’ve laughed together, we’ve cried together . . . and I wouldn’t change a single day.